- v i l l a f r a n c a

 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” -  Phillipians 4:8

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Good morning from Tuscany! Have you ever seen such a beautiful sky? Yesterday saw a day of walking about 20 km along the ancient Via Francigena path from Pontremoli to Villafranca (halfway to Aulla). 

There are two Via Francigena paths that run from Pontremoli to Aulla; I think I took the long one.

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A clap of thunder sounded as I set off on the path. I put my raincoat on over myself and my small canvas backpack for about 10 minutes until the rain passed.

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The first part of the trail hiked up into the woods behind some beautiful Tuscan homes, then emptied to a more commercial road.

On the road was an open bakery with pink boxes. I stopped.

 

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Outside, I was happy to spy an olive tree growing in front of a pretty orange house. I recently learned to identify olive trees by their delicate pale green leaves, and promised one of my Aunts to photo some here! The next part of the trail was mostly a cobblestone path through the forest. The stones were slightly wet from the rain. In places, they built a bridge across shallow running water.


I stepped carefully and with my camera pointed.

 

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I walked through a small medieval town, Filaterria, during another brief rain. The chapel was marked everywhere as a stop for the Via Francigena, and I enjoyed a shelter from the rain there.

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The path led out of the town from the chapel directly into the woods. Boisterous voices in the distance signaled life in the city center on a Sunday.


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Bamboo trees on the trail (like the ones that invaded my grandmother’s garden for years), then a horse farm where I took coffee from a tack room vending machine reminded me of home.


“Connet- i - gut”


When I finally arrived at Villafranca, the albergo owner, a man with white hair and dark rimmed glasses named Giancarlo,  took my passport as a matter of form and flipped to the front page for a short biography.


“You were born in Connet-i-gut”.


It’s true. And I was pretty sure even without seeing it written, that his name was Giancarlo.


At least, I remembered


“Gian-carl-ooooooo!”

 

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Was the magic word the massive Italian smoking a cigar outside the hotel had yelled towards an open window to commence business hours when I arrived. For a terse minute before this, it was all locked doors, a blank look and my backpack.

 

I guess that’s how things are working here in Italy, and I was so glad. They offered me a nice room at a small price. The church in town had recommended them as the Via Francigena accommodation in this town,  smaller than than the others on the way.

The restaurant where dinner was served had a lot of life though, of it supplied by Giancarlo himself, who told jokes at every table and translated the German menu into English in no particular order. 

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I had an Italian coffee to finish one of the most delicious meals yet and slept beautifully.

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a o s t a

“Happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast” - John Gunther

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yesterday, I finally checked out of the hotel mignon after two days, had my back clicked back into place, and found my next stop - la méizón de Sara, next to the Via Francigena path in Aosta.

the nice thing about spending three days in one place has been the volume of other pilgrims I see as they pass through. 

when I left the ortheopata, I was walking down the street taking pictures and heard someone call my name. 

it was Tracey, an Australian woman I first heard of over breakfast in Trefcon from two Belgian pilgrims. We had never met up in all this time, but now we recognized each other on the street in Italy. With her was Michael, an American pilgrim I had met in Langres.

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 “Where are you headed? l walk with you!”

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 Tracey showed me some stretches for my back and how to use hiking poles to distribute your weight efficiently while you walk. 

Tracey showed me some stretches for my back and how to use hiking poles to distribute your weight efficiently while you walk. 

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And we went to the Italian post office and to lunch. 

After, they continued 15km to the next city and I checked into new place in Aosta for a third and final night - la maizon de Sara.

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The name caught my eye for some reason.

 It turns out that Méizón is a patois spelling, not the french “Maison” or Italian “casa”.  The other Sara is a very cool Italian girl who runs the bed and breakfast with her parents and likes a lot of cool things like telemark skiing, snowboarding, backpacking in Cambodia and surf camp in Spain!  It was nice to spend the last day in Aosta with so many friends.

It turns out that Méizón is a patois spelling, not the french “Maison” or Italian “casa”.

The other Sara is a very cool Italian girl who runs the bed and breakfast with her parents and likes a lot of cool things like telemark skiing, snowboarding, backpacking in Cambodia and surf camp in Spain!

It was nice to spend the last day in Aosta with so many friends.

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d a m p i e r r e - g y

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

- Henry David Thoreau

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Yesterday saw 43,000 steps from Dampierre-Sur-Salon to Gy. I look at the map now, of all the towns this road passed through. I made the list to tick them off on my way to Gy, but I now I  realize every little town was a destination. 

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I asked to refill my water bottle in the first village headed south. That’s how I met Frederique, a kind woman who seemed interested in the pilgramage. I shared with her all I had - the link to my blog! She shared with me that right next to her house was a photo-worthy spot, a castle where she would take my picture! Le Savoyeaux Chateau.  I continued down the path with “Savoy Truffle” stuck in my head. 

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     Motey-Sur-Saone  I continued and crossed the bridge into Motey-Sur-Saone. I pasued to eat some fruit and rinsed my hands in the water of the Saone river.

  

Motey-Sur-Saone

I continued and crossed the bridge into Motey-Sur-Saone. I pasued to eat some fruit and rinsed my hands in the water of the Saone river.

   I entered the woods of Saint Reine, and sat on a neat pile of wood to smell the pine in the air.  I began reading signs for the Cathedral in Igny, the next town down the road.

I entered the woods of Saint Reine, and sat on a neat pile of wood to smell the pine in the air.  I began reading signs for the Cathedral in Igny, the next town down the road.

    Igny  I found the cathedral in the town center and looked inside to see it was a sky blue and white and gold sanctuary built in 1920 like I hadn’t seen before.

 

Igny

I found the cathedral in the town center and looked inside to see it was a sky blue and white and gold sanctuary built in 1920 like I hadn’t seen before.

   Aigney  I hitched a ride 2km with a two seater hay tractor. I learned from the farmer that there was a John Deere tractor factory 10km away.

Aigney

I hitched a ride 2km with a two seater hay tractor. I learned from the farmer that there was a John Deere tractor factory 10km away.

   Citey    Almost into Gy, I meet a group of friendly goats who pose for pictures.

Citey  

Almost into Gy, I meet a group of friendly goats who pose for pictures.

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    Gy  I arrive at my destination and walk up the hill to find the tourist office. The door is locked, but I pause outside to use the WiFi! After five minutes lost in my phone screen,  a woman comes by the office. She says, are you looking for a hotel? They are all booked, but follow me. She unlocks the door to the tourism office, stamps my pilgramage crudential and makes a phone call. She smiles and lets me know she found a place and drops me at the gite of her friend, Claudine, who like me, communicates in English and photography, as evident in the camera hanging from her neck! She shows me to a very welcoming room and introuduces me to the other guests; a retired Flemish and English speaking Belgian couple.    At 7PM, Claudine takes us all for a tour of the place, the gite where we are staying. On the property is  a small musuem with artifacts of the former Le Charmeur cheese factory owned by her Father, animals, a beautiful river, and her house where we share dinner.

 

Gy

I arrive at my destination and walk up the hill to find the tourist office. The door is locked, but I pause outside to use the WiFi! After five minutes lost in my phone screen,  a woman comes by the office. She says, are you looking for a hotel? They are all booked, but follow me. She unlocks the door to the tourism office, stamps my pilgramage crudential and makes a phone call. She smiles and lets me know she found a place and drops me at the gite of her friend, Claudine, who like me, communicates in English and photography, as evident in the camera hanging from her neck! She shows me to a very welcoming room and introuduces me to the other guests; a retired Flemish and English speaking Belgian couple.  

At 7PM, Claudine takes us all for a tour of the place, the gite where we are staying. On the property is  a small musuem with artifacts of the former Le Charmeur cheese factory owned by her Father, animals, a beautiful river, and her house where we share dinner.

 a souvenir torn from the last roll of gold paper used to package the cheese

a souvenir torn from the last roll of gold paper used to package the cheese

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 labels taken from the factory demolition to Claudine’s Lavender garden by the wind

labels taken from the factory demolition to Claudine’s Lavender garden by the wind

 cheese ration stamps from WWII

cheese ration stamps from WWII

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Bella

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We share dinner and afterwards, Claudine shows me her photos from her daughter’s wedding last week. There are many beautiful pictures, but a the bride hiking her white dress to pas through the narrow opening of a barbed wire fence on the farm is a highlight. Claudine assures me the dress was not harmed in the moment. 

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At the end of dinner, Claudine asks what we would like for breakfast- coffee, tea, hot chocolate, bread, nutella. I make a special request for eggs. Claudine says she used the eggs all the eggs she had has cooking dinner, but if I am lucky the chickens will make a new one for my breakfast. 

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w i s q u e - a r r a s

everyday on the via francigena is a different story, today was decidedly different from the rest, and maybe even controversial.

i am writing from a hotel in arras.  if you are familiar with the path, you can see right away that I traveled today what would take at least  2-3 days of solid effort walking.  what happened? 

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well, this morning I woke up after sleeping about four hours at the abbey last night. it has been by far my favorite accommodation, but I could not fall asleep until 3 or 4. All okay though, there was strong strong coffee waiting at the breakfast table. all good. I set out at about 9:30 to my usual pace. Keep moving forward, no stopping except to maybe photo a cow or search for a stamp. 

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I’m getting used to it, but it’s a lonely road. Today’s path was a little more industrialized, a touch of grey in my walking world which up until now has mostly been green. 

about 4 miles into the morning, with cars occasionally passing me on the country roads, a little Perrot honked its horn. 

Rosemary, a retired teacher from Paris who I met at the Abbey, was driving the two other pilgrims I had been traveling alongside since Licques, a mother and child, who did a combination each day of walking/driving each day meet their husband/Dad who was walking the whole way. I planned on walking the whole way too, but the good luck that their attempt to find a taxi in St. Omer failed, and then they took the wrong turn onto the country road to meet me, was too much to let go.

Sure, I’ll take a lift! I was very happy to see my friends and eat lunch with some company !

And we made the most of the little frite stand where we stopped, taking pictures, getting stamps, and generally merry making like any group on a bon adventure.

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I thought I might continue on from there, but after lunch, I was less in the mood for the lonely road I chose, so stayed driving with Rosemary for a tour of the countryside, all in French.

 l’abbeye at mount saint elois, a French lookout point destroyed during WWI, right outside Arras

l’abbeye at mount saint elois, a French lookout point destroyed during WWI, right outside Arras

In truth, it was a great gift, a friendship, and carried out in a second language for me, and practically, saving me 2 nights of my 90-day visa and 2 nights of hotels in the small cities we passed through, cities I would have to stop and stay in traveling on foot.

On the other hand, because of my marathon  background, where “course cutting” is the paramount dishonor, I felt guilty.

On the other other hand, in the spirit of traveling, friendship, and spontaneity, I was having a great time!

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Maybe I even banked a day of rest for when I’m really going to need it. Maybe because of my restless sleep I needed it today. Part of traveling solo for me has been learning to accept help as well as give help when I can; kindness is an international currency. 

On the other hand, maybe I should try to press on past Rome to honor my promise of 1800 kilometers on foot, and I would have liked to thoroughly blogged about the cities we sped through. 

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Would love to hear other’s thoughts on this issue, so feel free to comment below if you have an opinion on cars on the Via